A North Shore Mum (who would prefer to remain anonymous), bravely opens up about her battle with breast cancer.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was just like you. I was 32 years old, had a husband, a ten-month-old baby, a house (and a mortgage), friends, family and was on maternity leave from a job that I quite enjoyed. I had the same dreams that so many new mothers have. In my mind I had pictured sharing some of life’s events with my son as he grew up, his first steps, his first ride of a bike, his first day at school, family holidays and adventures and maybe one day the addition of a brother or sister.
The day my life changed forever was just like any other. I fed my son, had breakfast with my husband and got in the shower. When I stepped out nothing was the same. I had found a lump in my breast and it wasn’t a small one. I couldn’t believe it. How could I have missed something like this? Easy, I was busy. I was tired. I was a new mum!
My GP assured me that it would just be a cyst, after all, the majority of breast lumps are benign. I was hurried through the initial testing (mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy) as we were due to leave the country in three days so my son could meet his grandparents and great grandparents overseas. It was only eighteen hours before we were due to fly out that I first heard the word that would change everything – malignant.
There were only three risk factors that related to me. I was a woman. I was getting older. I lived on the North Shore of Sydney. (My husband and I were told that women living on the North Shore of Sydney have the highest rate of breast cancer in the country.) I did not smoke, I was not overweight, I exercised regularly, I was not over the age of 50, I had no family history and what’s more I had given birth and breastfed a child, both things that should help to prevent breast cancer.
Through the months of treatment that followed, my little boy continued to grow. He came to see doctors and visit hospitals, he spent days with ‘just dad’, he played with his Nan & Pop and he lived a life that I never expected he would be a part of. My experience of motherhood became like no other I had imagined, there were weeks that I could not lift my baby, and days where no matter how hard I tried I just did not have the energy to play… But all I could think was how lucky I was to be here. I was alive and I was not going to miss a thing. I saw his first steps and heard his first words and was a part of his life and never had I been so grateful.
Throughout the surgeries, tests and procedures, through all of the pain, the hair loss, the needles and the discomfort and despite the lasting obvious changes to my body, the scaring and the side effects, I kept focusing on the reason behind the fight. I wanted to live, I wanted to be me. I would not let cancer change the quintessential ingredients that make me, me. So through it all I ensured that I stayed what I always was… a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt, a niece, a cousin, a daughter-in-law, a teacher, a friend and of course a mother, just like you.
I elected to have a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy even though the cancer was only in one breast. I had 6 rounds of third generation chemotherapy (TAC) but due to the cancer being triple negative there are no known ongoing treatments available. Unfortunately, this type of breast cancer has the highest mortality and recurrence rates, especially in the first five years, but I have ignored looking at or asking for the statistics as statistically, I should never had breast cancer in the first place! At this point in time I will continue to see both my oncologist and breast surgeon every six months for at least the next five years and then we will reassess. Today I feel well and I am focused on living my life as normally as I can. The shadow of cancer is ever present but I do my best to live for today while still hoping for the future.
Almost two years on and I never take a moment for granted, I am so lucky to have had a child and all I can do is hope and pray that I will still be here to see my little boy start Kindergarten, to see him ride that bike and be a part of his life as he grows. I am so thankful that I found my lump, for if I hadn’t no one else would have. Of course I wish I had have found it earlier, but I will be forever grateful that I found it at all.
You see, the scary fact is, that unless you are, for whatever reason, age, family history etc, someone who is getting regular mammograms, it’s likely that no one else is going to find a breast cancer for you and early detection is the key survival.
So to you, my fellow North Shore Mums, I encourage all of you to check your breasts regularly. It doesn’t matter how young you are, how small or large your breasts are, if you are breastfeeding or not. The fact is breast cancer can affect anyone.